As CCO, Paula Cogan is responsible for driving Colt’s commercial strategy, leading global teams across sales, presales and marketing, as well as working closely with the wider organisation to ensure Colt delivers on its vision of transforming the way the world works through the power of connectivity.
Joining Colt four years ago, Paula has played an influential role in Colt’s success in her previous role as Vice President for Enterprise and Capital Market Sales.
Before joining Colt, she spent a number of years working for Verizon Enterprise Solutions across a range of roles; latterly occupying the post of Regional Vice President EMEA & LATAM, which saw her produce over half a billion of sales annual revenue whilst leading the wholesale business.
Prior to this, Paula held several senior roles in Verizon Enterprise Solutions and Verizon Business, after initially beginning her sales career at BT.
Paula shares some leadership insights.
What are you most proud of professionally?
It would be establishing Colt’s Women’s Network – Network 25 – established to support the equal representation of women in our business. There were very few women within my team when I joined Colt and I wanted to create a safe environment, for women in our UK offices to support each other in our career aspirations and development.
While I conceived the idea, I am so proud of the women who took an informal group and put real structure, vision, and focus into the initiative. We now have established chapters of Network 25 in Germany, India, Spain, Italy, France, Japan, Singapore, and Dalian. All are currently running virtual events, mentoring circles and working together to boost gender equality within Colt.
It is a very inclusive group and many male colleagues are also involved. In a recent session our male leaders shared tips about how to raise confident daughters.
At Colt, 50% of our graduate intake is now female. Our newly launched Returners programme is also now giving us access to a pool of talented people, which we may not have really tapped into before. I can see that it is adding true value as the percentage of female colleagues is increasing across Colt.
As an advocate for inclusion, do you think accelerated changes in the world of work will increase opportunities or set back the inclusion agenda?
A positive outcome from lockdown is an enhanced environment of trust. There is tangible evidence that performance can be maintained, and higher levels of productivity are possible when working from home. Women often need flexibility in the workplace and some businesses have been reluctant to support that. It is evident that during lockdown, many women took the burden of caring for dependents, so we do need to be conscious of that, however we now have a case study to support the value and success of flexible working. So ideally people who require greater flexibility in the future in order to do their job and take care of other responsibilities – will be given it.
Who is the leader who most influenced your early career?
Brady Rafuse, CEO of euNetworks. I worked for Brady in my early career. He gave me stretch assignments and always supported and invested in me. After I had my twins, he brought me back into a Senior position within the business. Brady had faith in me, he trusted me and he sent a signal to the organisation about my talents and that had a significant influence on my career.
Has the experience of the last 100+ days changed your approach as a leader?
Operationally we have had to change. We have learned to maintain structure, as it would be too easy to allow boundaries between work and home to blur. I have recognised that it is important for our teams to have a degree of separation, to ensure our people are not tempted to always be working.
I have also implemented a deliberate communications strategy, to compensate for not being able to meet people in our offices. For me, this has also meant consciously maintaining visibility with all our teams and being decisive in maintaining relationships. One way I do this, is I have opened Cogan’s Virtual Irish Bar and I invite teams to have an informal chat without agenda.
Early on we had a flurry of online social activities from Zumba to Pilates and the feedback we received was that by the end of a day people would have a headache from the constant video communication. So, we have adopted ‘Manic Free Mondays’, meaning we’re encouraging our people to have no large-scale video meetings on this day. We want people to use this time to do one-to-ones, plan, think and learn. I also have a video free day once a week, I attend meetings online but with no camera.
If you could appoint anyone (alive, dead, fictional or real) to join your leadership team who would it be and why?
I would appoint Joan of Arc, (1412 –1431) a young peasant girl who had a vision to liberate France. For me, she’s one of the first role models for female leadership. At 18, she led a military campaign from the front. With no military training, and at a time when women had almost no rights, Joan of Arc won the 100 years’ war against Britain.
Courageous, resilient, with a big vision she inspired an army of trained soldiers. Qualities I admire and value in my team.
What are the 3 most important things (values or behaviours) you look for when hiring? And why?
Integrity is super important. I value ethics. I want to trust those in my team. I commit that they can trust me. I will always be transparent, direct, and honest but without trust among a team it will be difficult for customers to trust our company and our brand.
Resilience is also important in a sales environment, it’s easy to fly when we are in a growth market. When things are not going so well, a team looks to their leaders to ensure continuity and purpose.
I also look for those who want to constantly learn, are open to growth, and can adapt and evolve to stretch as the world changes. Which has never been more important than today.
What is more important – acquiring talent or retaining talent?
Both are equally important – acquiring new skills, such as those who have experience that traditionally may not have been within Colt or our industry previously, such as Software Engineers – we need to acquire that talent.
However, it’s also important to keep people within our company. We must be mindful to create opportunities that fulfil, develop, and retain people.
What advice would you share with your 21-year-old self?
Failure is not my enemy. You only learn by making mistakes. Do not be afraid to stretch yourself and try to learn new things. Sometimes you will fall over, but as long as you can pick yourself up, reflect and learn – you will succeed.
What do you see as the future of work?
I have been reflecting on this a lot and because we’re all at home, it’s almost like we’re all telesales people again now. Which is a different sales skillset. This time has also made me think how will we evolve our ‘go to market’ strategy and client engagement going forward? We are actively looking at this and I think the answer will be our skills will need to evolve to be focused on engaging in a digital environment. However, our organisation is built on doing business in the way that works for our customers, so in a way our model has been built to change as our customers’ requirements do.